my coworkers want status updates — but I don’t have them because my boss is a bottleneck

A reader writes:

I frequently field “status update?” requests for my projects. But I’m not sure if I’m doing myself any favors in my approach to these emails. Some of the issue here is that I work for a micromanager (Cersei) who picks apart emails, frequently changes standards, and doesn’t communicate “behind the scenes” executive decision-making to her staff. So the result is that her staff are frequently out of the loop on project status updates.

Frequently, clients and internal staff will email my colleagues and I and request status updates. These emails may just be the polite “checking in on this this…” message. But often, the sender is quite frustrated or confused about the delay. They mark the message as urgent and explain in detail the importance of their work, the issues caused by the delay etc. The delay in these situations is nearly always caused by Cersei. And, given Cersei’s poor communication standards, its impossible to know the reason or stakes of this delay. Is it perhaps that the project got lost in her inbox and she forgot about it? Or is there some massive, company-wide issue happening that has put the entire project in jeopardy? As her staff, we usually do not know.

Anyway, I acknowledge that I can’t control Cersei’s behavior or reptuation but I recognize that I can control mine. When I get these emails, I try my best to advocate the issue to Cersei. I forward her the email, provide her the context that I’m aware of and ask for a status update or if I can pass along a response to the client. If she doesn’t respond within a day or two, I escalate the issue to an in-person question with her. Usually its just a waiting game for a reply.

But what should I say, if anything, to the client while I wait for Cersei to respond? I consider acknowledging a problem to be good customer service. So I often reply with a short email to (1) acknowledge the issue/its urgency, (2) let them know that the project is being reviewed by our manager, and (3) tell them I will provide an update when I have it. (In the past, Cersei has told me I can “blame her” for delays so I feel comfortable citing the part management plays in the delay as part of this email.) Sometimes this helps and the client feels like their voice is heard. In other instances, they are just further frustrated and attempt to escalate the issue to Cersei (who won’t respond) or someone else (who then also emails or calls me).

My colleagues, on the other hand, aren’t providing these “holding pattern” replies. In some cases, they let the emails sit while they wait for an update from Cersei. I’m sure they don’t want to deal with a frustrated client or take blame for a delay that isn’t their fault. But is there professional merit to this approach as well? When they eventually respond, they have an answer. But when I respond, I risk looking like I am bad at my job. Which method would be better in this work environment? Or is this all a moot point given Cersei’s behavior?

It’s better to respond, even if it’s to say you don’t have an answer yet, rather than to let a message go unacknowledged for days and days.

There are definitely other people like your coworkers out there, who don’t think they need to acknowledge a message until they have an actual answer to it, and those people are baffling.

I mean, it’s fine to wait if you’re just waiting a few hours (that’s generally preferable to sending a bunch of emails that just say “I will find out” when you’re going to email with the answer a few hours later). But waiting days to acknowledge the message means the other person has to wonder: Did you see their email or did it get lost or accidentally deleted? Are you out of the office and they should be contacting someone else instead? Are you just not on top of your work? And if it’s the latter, are you going to move with a sense of urgency on anything, or do they now have to feel uneasy about your work in general?

That all said, this is about what kind of band-aid is best to put on a bigger problem, which is Cersei’s poor communication.

And I’m specifying her communication, not her holds-ups, because it’s perfectly plausible that she’s making the right decisions about what to prioritize and what to push back and when to put a project on hold until more information is known. The issue is that she’s not relaying enough information to you for you to make your own good decisions.

It sounds like you might have talked to Cersei about this in the past, given that she’s told you it’s okay for you to blame her. But I’d go back and talk with her again and say something like, “I’m finding that clients and internal staff are increasingly frustrated when I’m not able to give them a status update about a project because it’s moved past me to you and I’m not sure what your timeline is for sending it back. You’ve said in the past that it’s okay to blame you, but people are looking less for who it’s with and more for something concrete about where it stands and when they’re likely to see it. Is there a way to get more transparency into where projects stand once they’re with you and what your likely timeline is on them? Maybe even just having a quick meeting to touch base once or twice a week would help.”

(And if you already do have standing weekly check-in’s with her, start using those to help with this issue! If you’re not doing this already already, in those meetings start doing a quick rundown of your projects that are with her and ask if she can update you on them. You’re allowed to ask this about your own projects.)

If she’s resistant to that, then say: “Can you give me your advice on how I should handle it when I don’t have status info for someone and they’re clearly frustrated? Much of the time, they’ll tell me about the problems the hold-up is causing, and I think I come across as not taking it seriously when I’m not able to give them any answer.”

If this doesn’t get you any improvements, then at that point your best bet is to reply to people with something like, “I’m so sorry for the delay. The work is with Cersei for approval, and I don’t have a clear answer from her yet on when it’s coming back. I’m going to see what I can find out from her and will update you as soon as I have an answer.” And then do what you’ve been doing — check with Cersei, and follow up with her in person if that doesn’t bear fruit. (In fact, it might be more effective to just start with the in-person step from the beginning — if she’s not responsive to emails, don’t feel you have to go through the motions of trying email first. It’s fine to move straight to what you know works more often.)

I’d also add an additional step, which is keeping the other person updated — meaning that after a couple of days go by, you might send them another email that says, “I want to let you know this is still on my radar. I’m waiting to hear back from Cersei and I’ll follow up again and let you know as soon as I hear anything.” That tells that that someone is still on the case, and that even though they’re not getting the answer they wanted in the timeframe they wanted it, you’re not being cavalier about it and you haven’t forgotten about them. They know you can’t control your boss, but most people will appreciate you showing that you’re trying to help and are taking their request seriously.

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Bee

    Oh man, ALWAYS send an email saying you don’t know yet but you’re working on it. Especially if it doesn’t interfere with the process of finding out.

    My job involves a lot of long timelines and chasing people at other companies for responses, so I’m frequently the person on the other end of this. Everyone who promptly replies to my check-ins to say “not yet, still working on it” gets another month or two of me not being irritated at them! Everyone who goes silent for six months or more becomes a person I never want to deal with again. I know, intellectually, that there’s a lot of anxiety and guilt behind the non-responses, and I’ve occasionally been guilty of it myself, but there’s only so much of it I (or my clients) can take.

    Reply
    1. Lance

      Speaking as well as someone who gets anxious about communication (really, just in general… but regardless); those that don’t say anything may share the mindset I get into of ‘what’s the point when there’s nothing to say?’ Which, while understandable… also isn’t a good look for them, since the person on the other side wants some sort of acknowledgement (I’m trying to work on that, really).

      Reply
      1. Alianora

        This is a principle I try to follow when I’m handling data, but it also applies here. A zero is different than a blank.

        Here’s a simple example: I’m listing all my monthly expenses by category, and I didn’t spend anything on clothes this month. I still have my spreadsheet set up so that clothing expenditure shows as $0, rather than leaving it blank. Because blank could mean all kinds of things: it could mean I’m waiting to see how much I spent, it could mean I spent $0, it could mean I forgot to log how much I spent.

        Explicitly stating that I spent $0 eliminates that ambiguity, just like explicitly stating that you have no updates eliminates the possibility that you’re dead or ignoring them.

        Reply
        1. Pilcrow

          A person after my own heart! I almost* always acknowledge a field in a form with N/A or zero or whatever just to make sure it’s known (to both myself and whomever it handling the data) that it wasn’t just missed.

          * Exceptions being some electronic forms that don’t want zeros if it doesn’t apply. I’m looking at you, TurboTax.

          Reply
      2. Shannon

        But, in this situation, there’s not *nothing* to say. Even if the project is out of the OP’s hands, she can still say, that it’s in Cercei’s hands, but she’ll check in with her boss to see what her timeline is. Or even just that it’s in her boss’s hands.

        Reply
      3. nonymous

        Yes. In my neighborhood group we got a verbal confirmation that we were going to get garbage bins installed locally. I sent an email summary, and then followed up about six weeks later, asking for an install date (volunteers are responsible for disposing of trash) so we could plan for coverage. The next month I sent the same update request to the project coordinator cc’ing his boss. Two weeks after that, his boss replied that the coordinator would get back to me in the next couple days and another couple weeks passed before the bins were installed.

        We got email confirmation that our group was “formally accepted into the program” a couple weeks after installation and if the transit authority would remove them if we didn’t keep it tidy. /smh

        don’t be that guy.

        Reply
    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      Yes please!!! An acknowledgement that you have received the email, are aware of the issue, and are taking steps to get an answer will earn you a lot of goodwill in my book. I’m in a position now where my work relies a lot on other people doing their parts of a process before I can do mine and not getting responses is the most frustrating part.

      I will also add, if you don’t already, make sure you have a system in place for actually following up with these things! Nothing irritates me more than having to forward an email a month later saying “Hey, I never got a response about this.”

      Reply
      1. pamela voorhees

        Please follow up after the first time! Please please please. You can even frame it as “I’m continuing to work on this, is there anything new on your side I should know about.” But knowing that the first email of “I’m working on it” wasn’t just an empty statement to get me to go away is necessary.

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        1. k.

          OP here- I never thought about adding a second follow up before reading Alison’s respond and these comments. I think I’ll start doing that!

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          1. Rebecca1

            I have been in your position many times! I typically put a reminder in my calendar to send “no-update” status updates every month/ week/ day/ whatever seems most reasonable for the job.

            Reply
          2. Bulbasaur

            The ‘update that is not an update’ is an important project management tool. You might think you are conveying no useful information, but in fact you are – namely, that YOU are still on the case and checking in even with the dependent party for updates, even though none are yet available. You can do it regularly, as often as you need.

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          3. Burned Out Supervisor

            If you have Outlook, you can set a category and rule for “Action/Follow Up needed” for your sent replies, that way it doesn’t get lost or you’re not setting a billion calendar reminders. I typically BCC myself and then attach the Action Needed category on it. I’ve also created a rule and Quick Action that then moves the email into a folder that I have named _Action Needed that I run through on the regular.

            Reply
          4. Blunt Bunny

            Yes this is always great it shows that you understand and are on top of it. Useful things I’ll like to know if there is any holidays and who needs to approve or review it. Also in your replies you can CC your manager so they are aware of the request for update and can provide more info if they choose. It is also good for the recipient as more people on the email chain shows greater visibility rather than sweeping it under the rug especially having a higher up.

            Reply
    3. Curious

      Yeah, if you acknowledge my request in any way then I’ll either follow up a few days after you estimated you’d get back to me or I’ll wait a generous amount of time (depending on what I’m waiting on, a week or two or three). I don’t find that frustrating at all.

      If I get no response and have to keep sending e-mails every few days to once a week for a long period then eventually I’m going to copy your supervisor on the chain of e-mails and put the number of times I’ve contacted you in the e-mail title (“5th attempt at contact”). People always get so huffy about having their supervisor in the loop. Why not just respond to my first or second e-mail? For all I know you’ve been fired or are on medical leave and no one is getting my requests. (Yes, I realize I can call people, but in my experience if someone isn’t answering e-mails they’re also not answering voicemails, and the whole point is that I need things in writing to begin with.)

      Reply
      1. k.

        OP here – and this is another reason I name Cersei in these emails. I am okay with coworkers going to my supervisor directly if they feel the delay has lasted too long. She isn’t likely to respond to them either.If anything, it demonstrates the uphill battle I’m fighting.

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      2. Environmental Compliance

        “(Yes, I realize I can call people, but in my experience if someone isn’t answering e-mails they’re also not answering voicemails, and the whole point is that I need things in writing to begin with.)”

        My problem child vendor likes to pretend I never called them, as they just don’t have any voicemails, so obviously I’m calling the wrong number! Well, no….*your name* was in the voicemail, in *your voice*, at the number in *your email signature*, so yes, yes I left voicemails. But also resulted in everything being in email, as then I have it clearly in writing when they pretend I never emailed them.

        Waiting on a process? 95% of the time, very understandable, very easy to deal with. Waiting on people who don’t respond at all? 99% of the time, very frustrating, very difficult to deal with internally when there are things waiting on the results….especially in my field of work, where it could result in an enforcement case.

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    4. Archaeopteryx

      That kind of mindset drives me crazy even socially- trying to schedule something with friends, and being met with radio silence instead of “that might work; I’ll check my schedule!” The ‘I’ll respond when I have the answer’ idea is bafflingly self-centered. (As Alison said, provided you’re talking days and not hours.)

      Reply
      1. starsaphire

        This has been a problem for me socially as well.

        I can SEE that the text was read. I know they’re home because I can SEE their posts going up on Facebook. But then they wait six days to get back to me and then reply, “Are we still on for tonight?” when I’ve long since given up and made other plans…

        Every time those people text me, I respond as soon as I see it with “Sounds great! Let me check with Spouse.” I’m modeling polite behavior; I wish they’d pay attention.

        Reply
  2. anonymous otter

    This is really timely and helpful for what I’m dealing with right now! One question: would the scripts/answer change if they were clients, rather than coworkers wanting the status updates?

    Reply
    1. Ashley

      All the more reason to follow-up if they are clients. At some point co-workers are probably going to pick up your boss is slowing you down.

      Reply
  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

    Cersei’s problem is bigger than communication. As OP indicated, she’s a micromanager.

    Why should you have to ask for the status of something, when there ought to be a project management tool of some sort that everyone can access to keep action item status up to date, and see where things stand? But having that, of course, would eliminate a source of power and control for Cersei, so she won’t implement one without significant top-down pressure.

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  4. Stuff

    Do you have a grand boss? This is definitely an issue to escalate as the entire reputation of your company is being held hostage by one person

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      I think that escalating this above Cersei without attempting the conversations Alison has suggested would be a mistake for OP. If she tries those conversations and gets nowhere, then that might make the most sense, but a frank conversation with Cersei is the right first step.

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    2. designbot

      I was wondering at what point this gets escalated as well. It sounds like terrible management of a whole team. I might do something like bring it up in a performance review, as a “I’d really like your help to handle this better because I think it’s really limiting our whole department” sort of way. Not accusatory, just matter of fact as though of course everyone in the review knows it’s an issue. But I realize I’m making an assumption based on my workplace culture, where it’s typical to have your line boss and one other person from management in your review—if it’s just with your boss, then that might not produce results.

      Reply
  5. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Ignoring requests lead to worse consequences in the end. I fired vendors and clients alike for that decision. I’ve locked accounts if it’s an unresponsive customer who refuses to acknowledge a payment request and pulled vendors from projects who aren’t on time and offering a good explanation.

    You’re doing your best and that’ll save their skin more often than they’ll ever know or acknowledge. Also I wouldn’t put myself in that situation too long, you’re responsive but with everyone else letting it slide your reputation can simply be damaged for working within a poorly managed and thought of department/company despite it not being the most fair shake in the end, you’re being painted by that same brush.

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    1. k.

      OP here – yes, I do think this situation will ultimately lead me to look for another job. On the plus side, my own organizational skills have improved (by necessity) because of this environment. But I have always hoped to move to a sister dept at this organization at some point. And I worry my reputation is being hurt by association.

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      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Best of luck to you and it’s fantastic that you’ve learned from their poor behaviors, that’s absolutely a way to make lemonade. As long as you have an escape in mind, you’ll have plenty of time to hatch the final escape plan.

        Make sure you’re visible to that sister department as the shining star you are. They’ll be able to see you as the person they want to poach ;)

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      2. RainyDay

        I’ve worked with a couple of Cersei’s in my career – I feel for you, OP.

        As for hurting your reputation with the sister department, if they know she’s generally a blocker to getting stuff done, you’re probably fine. No one who knew my Cersei’s held me responsible for my delays – so long as *I* was on top of communication and empathetic! Your ability to be organized and communicate in an otherwise unorganized environment is probably on display here to your sister department.

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        1. Jadelyn

          This – most places, everyone knows where the bottlenecks are, even if they don’t say anything. There are certain managers I work with that I’ve labeled “black holes” because I send things in and nothing ever comes out. If I were working with their team instead of them directly, asked someone where things were, and the person told me it was with their manager, I’d know immediately what was up and not hold that person accountable for it. Odds are pretty good your coworkers can probably see this for what it is, too.

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      3. Kella

        Hold up, OP, are you the same person as who wrote in about the manager that yells for communication? If so, is this the same manager or a different one?

        Reply
  6. LQ

    As the person who has been the client on the other side of this, 1 respond! 2 say that it is with Cersei. Sometimes I’ll have a chance to meet with Cersei’s boss, or I can get my boss to make a call.

    Hi Cersei’s boss, the reason we can’t do more work with your company is because Cersei isn’t moving the work along fast enough. Jane, who has been fantastic to work with, does a good job of keeping me in the loop and getting things to me as quick as possible, but it seems like Cersei is a real hold up and if we can’t get this done, we can’t do the Next Big Spend Thing.

    Now suddenly Jane’s able to work a lot more freely as Cersei has been told to pass that to Jane and let Jane do her job.

    Reply
    1. Ralph Wiggum

      I like this.

      It’s easy to think that all work follows The Process, but a lot gets done by back channel. By giving the client as much information as possible, they are more empowered to resolve the situation.

      Reply
      1. LQ

        The more work I do with vendors and others the more I realize that The Process is rarely how work gets done. The good news is that The Process is still really important. Like responding in a timely manner and just being straightforward about where it is at and then following up again.

        Reply
      1. LQ

        I really hope it works out for you. Being as forthcoming with information to clients (internal and external) really does help. As a client in a lot of these situations not responding is the worst thing, responding honestly is totally fine. I can work with that.

        Reply
    2. Edith

      Absolutely agree.

      I used to work in a large grocery store as a cahier and floorworker (my official titel was cooworker). I got a lot of complaints for things out of my control (like scheduling or hiring) and I would usually agree that yes, having someone to ask in a store is generally a good thing, placing a big crate with going out of stock products right by the entrance preventing people from getting is not well thought out, but we have told the management/boss and we don’t get any response. I’ve done this partially to protect my relative sanity, because I refused to accept responsibility for managements failings in a workplace that was great in fostering disloyalty (different people cried in the bathrooms severeal times a week, and several started cutting them self with the company provided box cutters) and because I generally think it’s better to name the problem. Hopefully the enoyed costumer sent a complaint to management.

      Reply
  7. pamela voorhees

    I appreciate so much that these scripts politely name Cersei as the bottleneck. As the client, if it gets to the point where I need to escalate, it’s so much better to say “Cersei is the problem and I need her to change” rather than “this entire department is a problem and I need something to change but I don’t know what,” which management can interpret in any number of ways. It also helps make it clear that you aren’t the hold up, which protects your reputation with clients and in turn, gives you way more credibility the next time this happens. Even just saying “sorry, I know this is frustrating” can generate a lot of goodwill.

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    1. k.

      OP here – I always debate how much I should explicitly empathize to my colleagues or clients in these situations. Cersei can act a little high and mighty when I raise issues to her (like “WELL, if they didn’t do x,y,z, then it wouldn’t require so much work from me!”). When I first started at this job, I bought into her “sorry, not sorry” attitude. Now, after working here awhile, I see it’s a “her” issue and not the clients fault and I’ve started to include some empathetic lines in my emails now.

      Reply
      1. Lance

        Something I’ve been taught a lot: name the problem, don’t blame the creator. Basically, it’s fine to apologize that something’s taking a while/longer than it should, and maybe address any factors you might have info on without pointing any fingers.

        That said, Cersei sounds… frustrating. Hopefully you’ll be able to make something work here.

        Reply
    2. Où est la bibliothèque?

      What about–very politely, without explicitly blaming her–CC’ing her on the response?

      “I will let you know as soon as I have more details. Cersei is currently [reviewing/deciding/whatever]; I have copied her in case she has any updates.”

      She may respond–and if she doesn’t, it’s very clear that she’s the one creating the bottleneck.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        I like this suggestion. Because it also makes Cersei very aware of how often these issues are coming up and she can’t try justifying it like “oh, it’s not that big of deal” or “OP is overreacting”.

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      2. polkadotbird

        Yes, I find that CCing in the person causing the bottleneck is very effective. One, you’re not trying to coordinate multiple emails between different people. Two, you’re politely being clear that you have done all you can. Three, people may say that they’re fine making people wait but there is a difference between “fobbing off my direct report” and “fobbing off someone to their face”, and so they (sometimes) get their act in gear.

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  8. Murphy

    I get this kind of thing all the time, people asking me for updates on a process that’s at least partially out of my control. I always respond with as much info as I can provide a) without promising anything I can’t deliver and b) without throwing anyone else under the bus (even if they deserve it). Even if something doesn’t feel urgent to me, or I feel like the process is taking a completely normal amount of time, I get that it doesn’t always feel that way to the other side and I try to be understanding of that.

    Reply
  9. Pommette!

    I used to approach email the way your co-workers do: instead of acknowledging a question when I received it, I would wait until I had heard back from my manager, and send a full answer; instead of sending updates about incomplete projects, I would try to complete the project and send that instead. I genuinely felt that it was better to wait until I had something substantive to say or show before writing an email that was going to take up room in someone’s inbox.

    Working for a Cercei made my bad habits so much worse… but it also helped me realize that they were really bad habits. It took me an embarrassingly long time to connect the dots between the fact that not hearing back from her at all made it harder for me to do my own work (did she just miss my email? is she working on something for me that I should be prepared to deal with tomorrow? is this issue just not a priority?…), and the fact that my own communication style was apt to cause similar problems for others.

    These bad habits get entrenched easily; I still have to fight my bad email instincts on a daily basis. It sounds as if you have reasonable email instincts. Please embrace them!

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    1. k.

      OP here – thank you for the insight! It’s very tempting to hold off on responding. But I’ve found responding has helped keep me accountable for my work and I’m less likely to forget to follow up.

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    2. Jaydee

      Hi Pommette, are you me? I could have written the exact same thing. It’s still really easy to fall into my old mindset of “oh, I’ll wait to respond till I have a full answer.” But people would rather hear something, even if it’s not what they want to hear, than silence.

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    3. starsaphire

      In a lot of companies I’ve worked for and worked with, someone not responding to an email the way your co-workers seem to be doing can often mean “This person left/quit/got laid off and so your email is going into a black hole.” It’s unnerving to send a request and get radio silence!

      Sounds like you’re handling it very well. Best of luck to you!

      Reply
  10. Alianora

    I field a lot of emails like this. Sometimes the bottlenecks are from somebody in my office and sometimes it’s a different department. Usually I’ll write something like this and cc Cersei, instead of forwarding to her separately:

    “Hi Name,

    Thanks for following up on this. I’m awaiting approval from Cersei on this, and will be sure to let you know as soon as we receive her response.

    Sincerely,
    Alianora”

    That way when Cersei eventually does get back to me, I have a reminder of the context.

    Reply
  11. Talley

    Cersei has said you can blame her for the hold up, so I would cc the client on the email you forward to her. “Cersei, Per the forwarded email below, Client X (cc’ed on this email) is asking for an update on the project I forwarded to you on DATE. What can we tell them?”

    It may be too bitchy to do in real life, but it would show the client that LW has done what she can on the project, has seen the email, and where the bottleneck is. All with a single email. Hopefully, knowing the question is coming from the client and that the client knows it’s on Cersei’s desk, would goose Cersei to at least respond!

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    1. k.

      OP agree – I’ve thought about this method and I’ve always been a bit nervous to do it, knowing Cersei. She uses her employees a bit like a firewall (or sometimes a battering ram) and doesn’t often respond to clients directly.

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    2. Washi

      Maaaybe as a last resort. But if I were a client and saw an email like that, I would wonder a little bit at the dynamics between the employees, as that’s a pretty confrontational email to send, and doesn’t necessarily accomplish much. I’d much rather get regular status updates from my contact, especially if, per OP, Cersei never replies anyway.

      Reply
  12. Hey Karma, Over here.

    Please, please, please continue to acknowledge the email. Simply put, you are right and your coworkers are wrong, not different, wrong. Because, everyone knows the waiting game sucks. Let’s play Hungry, Hungry Hippos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4Oh7U_L6hs)’

    In addition to not screwing over your business partners, coworkers, clients and colleagues you will be helping yourself. As Alianora writes, you will be actively putting the question in your mind and in your to do list. You will have some context when Cersei gets back to you and context when you reply with an answer.

    Reply
  13. Abigael

    I was in a similar situation at my last job, except my manager did NOT give me the okay to “blame him” for hold-ups. It was SO. FRUSTRATING. and one of the main reasons I left, because clients and internal offices would be waiting for weeks for an answer to their questions, and it looked like I was ignoring them or not following through because I couldn’t say anything about my manager bottle-necking the process. I felt like it was reflecting poorly on my own professional reputation. One time when I DID use phrasing like Alison suggested (““I’m so sorry for the delay. The work is with Cersei for approval, and I don’t have a clear answer from her yet on when it’s coming back.”), I got reprimanded for “undermining” my manager and “throwing him under the bus.”

    Reply
    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      Yup my Cersei was like this, except I used a much milder statement in my situation. Cersei handed me a completed thing on my first day and said, “Fergus is going to be doing X,” but then Fergus’s boss emailed me angry saying, “How dare you tell Fergus to do X! I said last month that Fergus can’t do X!”

      I emailed her back something like, “I am so sorry, the schedule I have here says Fergus is doing X. I’m going to be the point person on X going forward, so I can fix that right away and if you have any future concerns about X, please feel free to let me know. Again, my apologies for the mixup!”

      And that person emailed Cersei to say that I’d been trash talking her and lying about how I screwed up Fergus’s schedule and was stealing from her department and blamed Cersei for it.

      Reply
  14. AnonACanada

    Is it at all possible to preemptively contact clients when a project has changed hands (even temporarily)? I used to deal with this all the time in my previous position. I had my boss’s permission to send the client an email like:

    Hi ClientName,

    I have forwarded your project to my manager Jane. I will let you know as soon as she has (sent it back to me, approved the contract, done her share of the final editing, etc) but if you require any updates before you hear from me please contact Jane at boss@email.com.

    -Me

    Reply
  15. Overeducated

    If this is happening all the time, you may want to talk with Cersei about semi-formalizing a “process” to give your colleagues a better sense of what the timelines look like so that THEY can plan for the delays, instead of treating each one like an unexpected surprise. By a “process,” I mean something like adding a certain standard amount of time, e.g. 2 weeks, at every step where you get the bottleneck and communicating that to clients, or building “status update” milestones into your project timelines and not giving them outside of that without a good reason. (If you get a new manager, the “process” can change, no big deal.)

    This is what works in my field, where it takes longer to get anything approved than to actually do the work on it. If that’s completely unheard of in yours and would destroy your business to explicitly name longer timelines, then you need to collect the data to show Cersei how long each project is actually being delayed while in her inbox, because those numbers ARE the actual problem, not whether they stay internal or get shared with clients.

    Reply
    1. k.

      OP here – this is a fantastic point. I plan on bringing some metrics I’ve been keeping of our turnaround times (among other items) to our next one on one session. I think I can make a case for reevaluating our processes and providing some better top-down guidance on standard times.

      Reply
      1. Ralph Wiggum

        Ooh, this is good, too.

        That which is measured gets optimized.

        I don’t know if it’s politically possible, but it would be great if those metrics could be easily disseminated to the whole team continuously. Most project management software lets you just look this stuff up whenever you want, but your process may need to be more manual. Even better would be if they could become department-wide Key Performance Indicators, so Cersei is held accountable to them from above.

        Reply
  16. MuseumChick

    Echoing Alison’s advice. I worked for someone a few years ago who was the biggest bottleneck I head ever seen. When I would get emails like the ones you are describing I would always respond with basically what Alison has here. “I’m so sorry for the delay. I’m waiting on the X department for approval. I’ll check with them today* and get back to you as soon as I have more information.”

    People like to know that 1) Their communication has been received 2) What actions you are taking to address the issue. This satisfies both points and makes it clear that the delay is out of your hands.

    Reply
  17. nnn

    For internal clients, would it be possible to pass the buck to Cersei completely rather than running interference for her?

    A reasonably polite and professional way to do this would be to reply to the email and cc Cersei, with something like:

    Hi Jane,

    This task is currently with Cersei.

    Cersei, could you answer Jane’s questions about the ETA?

    Thanks,

    This wouldn’t be quite right with external clients, but with external clients you could respond with a “We’ll find out and get back to you” message, and then forward the client’s message to Cersei asking her to get back to the client.

    Reply
    1. Name Required

      Yes, this is a great suggestion! OP, I also do a version of this with clients:

      “Hi Jane,

      Cersei is running point on this part of the project. I have copied her to help with your question, as I’m not clear on the current status. I can help if you have any questions about x, y, and z.

      Thanks,”

      And then when Cersei doesn’t answer, it’s on her. Cersei’s asked you to blame her — do it. This might seem like a disservice to the client, but it could be that Cersei actually needs some help she’s trying to get from above, and there’s not enough of a pain point when you solve the problem by running interference for her instead. (And could she maybe not need that help if she wasn’t a micromanager? Sure, but that’s not on you to manage.)

      Reply
  18. Not One of the Bronte Sisters

    Wow. I used to work for a company where I used to submit expense reports every month and they needed to be approved by first my manager and then by the Regional Manager. My reimbursement checks were always delayed. Whenever I would call the Regional Manager to ask where my check was, he would tell me to contact Accounting. Every time I did, Accounting would tell me they didn’t have the request yet. After this happened several times, I called the Regional Manager and scolded him. I said, rather loudly and very firmly, “Accounting is not the problem. You are! Every single time I call them, my expense request is not even with them! This is money that I lay out in cash and I need it back and I don’t understand what the issue is.” Of course, I didn’t actually report to him. But yes, you ought to think about going to Grandboss. And getting out of that department.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Did he start getting your expense reports in on time??

      I admit I flinched seeing you took Accounting’s word for it and doubled down on the regional manager. My experience it’s not the manager’s fault. But I’ve got 99 bones to pick with just about all the accounting departments I have the displeasure of working with on a daily basis. Accounting loses crap and holds them without cause due to their archaic SOP or poorly trained personnel all the time…

      I work with buyers and procurement agents who will agree with me.

      And I’m an accountant who runs accounting departments…I’ve cleaned up enough and seen reimbursements lost, which is why I push reimbursements out as priority for exactly the reason you started to the manager you unleashed upon.

      Reply
      1. Polymer Phil

        I feel your pain with Accounting departments. I’ve learned that it’s easier to make do without something I need than to deal with a purchase order process that would make federal government procurement look simple. They also hold up responses to inquiries from prospective customers for weeks while they decide whether the prospective customer is financially worthy of doing business with us, and when they finally get around to giving their blessing, the prospect is upset that their attempt to contact us got ignored for a month.

        Reply
  19. Environmental Compliance

    Seriously considering fwding this to one of my vendors, who is notorious for just….not responding. For weeks. And then gets upset when I throw the hammer down of “hey, we paid for X, we have not received X, I’m not accepting any more quotes from your company until I get X, which, reminder, we’ve already paid for, and also, reminder, you’re not the only company that can do X. I need a timeline & updates *without* needing to babysit you.”

    In other news, said vendor has recently fired two of its workers that were my contacts, I have new contacts, and it is the only reason they are currently kept on – these new contacts have gotten back to me very quickly just to let me know they’ve received it. I’m not asking for a 100 pg report immediately….I’m asking for an update on where we’re at in the process. Not getting any response and being difficult to get anything out of *when my facility is paying your company to do this project* often means we go with someone else the following project who we don’t have to badger into giving us information.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Already paid O_O

      These frigging…people are why clients get difficult about pre-payment systems. It’s why people refuse to pay within standard terms and why many have set internal controls to avoid paying until things are received and perfect. *claws at ears* I’m glad you bark at them. These clowns are frequently shady AF and barely afloat businesses. They get the money and move on to the next sucker because the deal is not of priority to them because their only desire is to get the money in ASAP.

      Do y’all prepay in cash or on a card? I require prepays be done on card because I’ll slice you open with a chargeback if you miss deadline and dodge my calls.

      Reply
  20. nonymous

    My grandboss recently set standards that we were to tell stakeholders outside his group something along the lines of “Let me look into that for you”. I say this having been part of the team that was repeatedly thrown under the bus when status inquiries are made. Sometimes there were delays in how fast we could address the submission due to organizational inner workings that was out of our control, and then my team would get an irate complaint (sometimes via an elected official). What we’re working towards is having a good system for collecting all the necessary info from stakeholders (and letting them know in a timely manner whether additional details are needed) and setting expectations by publishing aggregate turnaround times for common cases. But the stakeholder doesn’t really need to know whether we spent 1 week in part A and 3 weeks in part B for some submissions and vice versa in others. The final TAT is 1 month either way.

    I say this because people will be the squeaky wheel if they think it will benefit them, with no consideration for how it affects the collective process. So if a stakeholder knows that sometimes part A can take 1 week and sometimes part B can take 1 week, they will ask for a 2 week TAT and raise holy heck if they don’t get it. But a lot of times the reason why part A was so fast is because all my workload in the part B phase is waiting on someone else to get back to me.

    Reply
  21. Twill

    Here! Here! It is always better to follow up with clients/customers to let them know you haven’t forgotten them. It buys good will and more time. Very important if the product or solution is out of your hands.

    Reply
  22. Anono

    I hate when work is designed in such a way that this becomes necessary.

    We outsourced our HR transactions, which meant large internal HR job loss. But we’re still the internal contact point, though…which means the entire day is spent responding to managers that “no, there is no update yet” but not actually being able to resolve the issue.

    Reply
  23. M&Ms fix lots of Problems

    OP, you are probably getting so many contacts because all those clients know they will hear something back from you. The clients that a long term or internal have probably picked up on the fact that Cesire is the problem. Eventually one would hope that if enough people got frustrated that they are always waiting on her they may go above her to get results.
    I worked at a place that had someone like your boss in another dept that I had to work with. One day that “hold-up” was out sick and I dealt with their boss instead. My work got turned around in a day, and I thanked him rather profusely for the fast turn-around. He was totally confused, and asked some questions. We told him that what took him a day normally took “hold-up” a week to complete. Boss was not pleased, and massive changes took place (including boss being Cc’ed on all incoming requests to “hold-up” so that he could track workflow). In the end “hold-up” ended up being replaced when the boss knew what level of frustration and problems were being caused (but only after a two and a half month PIP failed to bring about changes).

    Reply
  24. Van Wilder

    Could you keep an Excel/Google sheets tracker of your current projects with status and comments that both of you could update and access? I don’t know if this would work for Cersei given her seeming resistance to communication, but it goes a long way in my office.

    Reply
  25. Roz Doyle

    Man…I have a “Cersei” as a boss, and it’s uncanny how similar he is to the OP’s boss. Except in my case talking to him is useless and frustrating, emails at least give a paper trail. He promises deadlines by when he’ll do stuff, but it NEVER happens, he just gives a new ‘fake’ deadline the following week. And he gets mad when I remind him! He says “it’s with me, I know it’s with me, stop asking about it”. So I stopped asking him about it. My entire team has the exact same problem with Cersei, I used to think it was just me, nope! Grand boss tried to ‘fix him’, but with up and down results and Grand boss is lately otherwise occupied with a new project. Supergrateful that Allison gave scripts, they are better than what I’ve been using. And misery sure loves company, because it is comforting to know that other ppl have a Cersei doppelganger. Sucks for all of us that do, but yeah…

    Reply
  26. VioletCrumble

    We have a similar situation but it’s a little more difficult because our boss is not happy with our “blaming” them. We have a system that requires additional review and approvals and paperwork gets bottle necked at the last two points in the process. Clients and co-workers are often irritated with the delay. Compounding this are issues that are returned as needing additional information/documentation and necessitating going back to the clients. They hit the roof. Additional frustrations arise when the feedback/direction is inconsistent. One can prepare things in line with previous received direction/feedback and it’s returned to be done a third way. Unfortunately, our manager will retaliate in subtle ways if challenged or even if we try to follow up with them directly on status. Also unfortunately, the manager is a close personal friend of the CEO/grandboss who is also a micro manager and delights in making staff feel stupid and small. It’s a difficult minefield to navigate.

    Reply
  27. Rachel

    I hate the use of the word “blame” in a professional context like this one. My ExToxicBoss LOVED using that word, and it became clear that whenever there was an issue, she was more eager to find out who was to blame than solving it. Your boss sounds much better, but she’s too fixating on who the fault lies with, which IMO doesn’t matter nearly as much as moving forward and finding a solution that everyone can get on board with. Blaming her is nice and all, but it doesn’t make your life any easier.

    Reply
  28. CM

    If the issue is that Cercei’s not communicating with people because she feels contempt for them and doesn’t care how her secrecy affects anyone else, you should probably try to find another job. You can’t change someone like that unless they want to change, and you’ll just end up watching her destroy things if you stay.

    If you’re not sure that the situation’s that extreme, then, yes, I agree with the rest of the advice posted here. However, if trying to talk to her about the communication problem REVEALS the kind of contempt and callous disregard for others described in paragraph one… get out.

    Reply

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